More Common Braising Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
Braising is one of the best ways I know to turn a less expensive cut of meat into something sublime. This is the second post on common braising mistakes and how to avoid them. To read my first post go to How NOT to Braise - Part 1.
Mistake #4: My Pot Handles Melted in the Oven!
I know I have said it dozens of times: make sure you are using the right equipment for the right job. It will make you a better cook and will save you money in the long run.
The Fix: Use the Right Pan
Since a braise can be completed entirely on the stove-top or finished in the oven for more gentle, consistent heating, you need to make sure that your braising pot, handles and lid are all oven-safe.
Cast iron is an ideal material for a braising pot because it holds heat so well and releases it evenly, but you do not have to go out and buy a $200 enameled cast-iron pan for braising.
Ideally, your braising pan should be heavy to reduce the chance of hot spots. This is especially crucial for stove-top braising.
The lid should be tight fitting, but I have done successful braises just by crimping heavy duty aluminum foil over the top of the pot. You could also place a piece of aluminum foil over the pot and then put on the lid. This will help to ensure that you have a tight seal.
Whatever type heavy braising pot you use, make sure that the handles are sturdy and tightly secured to the pot. When dealing with a heavy pot full of meat and hot liquid, you want to make sure that you can count on your handles.
Mistake #5: I Gave Away my Crock-pot
Your crock pot was taking up space in your kitchen, and you decided to sell it on Craig’s List. Your buyer is very happy that you did.
The Fix: If You Have One, Use It
Crock pots were big in the late ‘70s and throughout the ‘80s. They were supposed to liberate the modern woman from the rigors of the kitchen. And to a certain extent, they did.
You could throw meat, vegetable, spices and some liquid in the crock before you left for work, turn it on, and dinner would be ready when you got home. Somewhere along the line, though, the crock pot got the reputation of being a short-cut.
Short cuts that don’t negatively affect the final product are great, and there is nothing wrong with working smarter, not harder, I say.
Part of the reason the crock pot’s reputation has been tarnished might be due to some of the short-cut ingredients that started to show up in crock pot cookbooks. Lots of these short-cut ingredients aren’t so good for you and can be full of sodium—a packet of onion soup mix. Wow.
I am here to say that you can have the best of both worlds. You can make really great food using a short cut appliance, not short-cut ingredients.
Here’s how: Sear your meat the night before. Deglaze with some flavorful liquid, and then put the seared meat and liquid into the crock pot. Add any other dry ingredients to the pot before you go to bed. Leave the crock in the fridge.
The next morning, add vegetables, seasonings and the rest of the liquid you’ll be using and turn on the pot. Walk away, and return hours later to a flavorful and healthy meal.
One of the great features of the crock pot is that, even on high, the temperature stays at a steady 200 degrees or so—ideal temperature for a braise! So, don’t sell your crock pot short. In fact, don’t sell it all.
Mistake #6: Sauce? What Sauce?
You’ve braised your meat. Now what? You go to the cupboard and grab a jar of pre-made gravy. “This’ll be perfect with my pot roast!” you think.
The Fix: Use Your Braising Liquid, Silly
Stop. Put the jar down, and think about what you are doing. You have (or at least your stove or oven has) spent hours getting this braise just right: right cut of meat, right liquid, right pot, right temperature, and you’re going to use a jar of gravy?
Use the liquid left in the braising pot—if you’ve sealed it well, you’ll have at least as much as you started with—to make a gravy.
Remember, cool the meat in the liquid completely, then reheat the liquid to make the sauce. Taste the liquid.
It might not need any additions at all. If anything, you might want to reduce it a little to concentrate the flavors or just thicken it up a bit.
To reduce your sauce, bring it to a gentle boil on the stovetop, and taste every once in awhile. It’s done when you like the flavor. Reduction can thicken your sauce some, as well.
To thicken the sauce, you could add a cornstarch slurry or thicken with a roux (cold roux for hot liquid; hot roux for cold liquid), or you could use your immersion blender. If you blend all the vegetable pieces together with the liquid, the vegetables will act as a thickening agent without introducing any more starches or fats.
Other ways to get a leg up on thickening your sauce is to flour the meat before you sear it. Voila: instant roux. You could also put potatoes or other starchy root vegetables in your braise. The natural starches will aid in thickening your sauce.
Mistake #7: I Don’t Have Any Chuck - No Braising Today
While we are most used to thinking of meats—beef, lamb, poultry—when we consider braising, there is no reason not to braise other foods as well.
The Fix: Don’t Forget the Fish and Vegetables
You can also braise fish, but you will want to braise for a much shorter period of time since you won’t be dealing with a lot of connective tissue. Look for larger cuts of firm-fleshed fish—swordfish, grouper or shark steaks come to mind. You will end up with fish soup if you try to braise thin fillets.
Many vegetables are wonderful when braised. Any vegetables that you would consider putting in with meat can be braised on their own. Potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips—all are good candidates for braising.
You could also consider braising cabbage, celery, leeks and onions. For a lovely vegetarian stew, braise a combination of these vegetables in vegetable stock with some herbs.
Southerners have long been braising tough greens: collard greens, mustard greens, chard and kale all greatly benefit from a long slow cook in water or stock with some fat back for flavor and perhaps a bit of honey or vinegar.